Making Patient Satisfaction Scores a Priority for Your Practice

December 4, 2011

The first step in taking action on patient satisfaction data is to set your priorities. Here are three quick steps to get your team started.

The survey results just came back into your office. You quickly scan through some of the aggregated scores and averages. But now what? How do you help your office move beyond just the data, just the stats, just the report and move to action. The first step in taking action on patient satisfaction data is to set your priorities. Here are three quick steps to get your team started.

1. Schedule time with your staff. This is incredibly powerful if you want to make real improvements. It's not enough to simply pass reports around or assume everyone is interpreting results the same way. Schedule a period of time twice a year where the exclusive purpose is to talk about patient satisfaction as a team. The emphasis of this meeting is not on the scores themselves, but rather on your vision for your practice and actions that need to be taken to make improvements. The patient satisfaction results merely serve as background insights to substantiate and quantify areas of opportunity. When you set this meeting up, invite your full staff. They each have unique insights about how and where to improve and their buy-in and support of any changes will be critical when it comes to implementing improvements.

2. Map your practice operations to your patients' point-of-view. Identify broad areas of experience that your patients have with your office in a sequential order of how they experience them. A typical starting list would include: appointment scheduling, reception and check-in, lobby waiting, nurse call back, vitals, exam room waiting, physician interaction, check-out and follow-up scheduling, and payment processing. You can customize this generic list to your practice and specialty, but it's important that you walk through each of the steps while looking through the patient's eyes. Lay out these experiences on a large whiteboard or flip chart so everyone can see them. Have your staff rate their performance in each of these areas. This will be insightful in terms of how your team thinks they perform today and will provide valuable team discussion in your planning process.

3. Align your actual patient satisfaction scores to the areas they fit. Depending on how you've structured your survey, you may have scores for many of these experiences. You will want to write the score for each area on your board next to the staff's scores. If you use the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey you will have more general attitudinal items including showing respect for patients, listening carefully, or explaining things clearly. If you have these more general scores, you'll want to align them with the various areas where they could manifest themselves. For example, listening carefully would show up as an element of appointment scheduling, physician interaction, and check-out. Write this score next to each of these areas.

Now that you have these experiences mapped and have a perspective from your staff and patients on how you perform, you can assess where your largest gaps exist. Where does your staff's view and your patient's view vary the most? In which areas does your staff score themselves the highest? The lowest? What about patients?

Armed with these insights you're ready to facilitate a discussion with your team. Direct the discussion by probing why your staff scored themselves the way they did. Focus on the gaps and ask why they think the gaps exist. Follow this up with a discussion about concrete, tangible improvement actions that can be implemented. By engaging your full team in this dialog, they will understand which improvements are the most critical, they will help develop the best improvements, and will be committed to a successful implementation.

Remember, you can't fix everything at once. Focus on a few key areas and get them right, then move on to the next priorities.

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